February 4, 2012

Matthew’s Day Off: Or, Why 2012 Super Bowl Ads Drowning in Nostalgia

You’ll forgive me, Matthew Broderick, if I say you look particularly old in that Honda CRV Super Bowl commercial revisiting the 80s Ferris Beuller version of your self. Don’t take it so hard—I’d look pretty old too if you put me in direct comparison with images from my days in the 80s. Things have changed… or have they?

A number of Super Bowl Ads seem to have caught the same nostalgia bug—there’s the Chevy ad with 16-mm-style footage of a kid and his dad in a red 1960s-era Chevy convertible flashing us peace signs, and there’s Volkswagen’s return to Stars Wars iconography in its new Super Bowl ad (make sure and watch all the way to the end—unlike in the Ferris Beuller ad, where the joke, after all these years, is also a little old), and there’s MetLife’s resurrection of seemingly every cartoon character from the past fifty years or so, as they’ve announced on Facebook, to star in some surprise Super Bowl offering.

In Woody Allen’s recent movie Midnight in Paris, we learn that nostalgia is a denial of the present and a romanticization of the past that exaggerates the difference between the two. This Super Bowl ad nostalgia is working differently, however. In the Super Bowl ad nostalgia of 2012, corporations and the ad people they employ seem to be working hard to convince us that things in this decade aren’t so different from those of the past fifty or so years. Don’t mind the gap of all those years, they seem to be saying—what matters is the culture of product and consumption that has persisted through the radical politics of the sixties, Watergate, Reganomics, and 9/11. Come on, they’re urging, buy as always; it’s all one consumer dream; no need to wake up.

There is, however, that small matter of certain events near the end of 2008. Ferris Beuller might be taking a number of days off nowadays, none of his own choosing, however.

— Brent Cottle

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Brent Cottle
See other posts by Brent here.

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